The latest in a long production line of low budget, US box office-topping horrors (and from the producer of the Paranormal Activity series), William Brent Bell’s The Devil Inside (2012) is entirely devoid of thrills, spills and originality. Dragging the exorcism sub-genre to hitherto unseen lows, Bell’s hackneyed bore has been publicised as ‘The film the Vatican doesn’t want you to see’, but could be more accurately described as ‘The film audiences shouldn’t have to see’.
Relocating the narrative from the US to the heart of Catholicism – Rome – in its opening chapter, The Devil Inside takes the form of a mockumentary following Isabella Rossi’s (Fernanda Andrade) journey to uncover the truth behind a triple homicide committed by her seemingly deranged mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) back in the 1980s. Joining forces with a group of rogue exorcising fathers (‘when in Rome…’), Isabella comes face-to-face with her estranged mother and becomes convinced that she is possessed by the Devil.
If you’ve seen any other exorcism-based movie in the last thirty-or-so years, you’ll undoubtedly have a fairly firm idea of the direction that The Devil Inside takes from here-on in – and you’d be absolutely spot-on. No cliché is too worn for Bell to regurgitate on-screen, with twisting limbs, demonic rants alluding to oral sex and ‘skull-fucking’ and nervous, sweating priests all thrown in for good measure, with not a care in the world for innovation, or indeed plagiarism.
However, even the recycled Friedkinian tropes are a breathe of fresh air when compared with the large swathes of stultifyingly inane, constant exposition that masquerades as the film’s supposed dialogue. At times you’d be forgiven for thinking Aaron Sorkin had penned the script (albeit devoid of all depth and wit) as we’re offered up scene upon scene of clunking discussion between characters in rooms. In fact, it’s amazing that the marketing team managed to find any promotional audience-reaction footage that didn’t include a number of drooping heads.
The Devil Inside would be fast approaching the contemptible if it wasn’t for its clinical exploitation of a now-established film production model – grab a group of unknowns, hire/buy a few digital cameras and film them screaming and shouting at each other for 90 minutes. Thus far, audiences have been flocking to this formula in their droves, but it’s hard to imagine a more turgid, vacuous film than Bells will come along to change their minds – perhaps it’s time for true fright fans to start voting, if not with their abstinence, than with their feet.